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American Airlines to quit Stansted: Long haul carrier scraps Chicago service

STANSTED, London's third airport, was dealt a severe blow last night after American Airlines announced that it will be pulling out of the under-used airport at the end of next month.

American, the only long-haul carrier flying there, said it had decided to abandon its daily Stansted to Chicago service after losing about dollars 10m since launching the route last June.

However, the scrapping of the service is also a reflection of the fierce battle being fought between British and US carriers for survival on the transatlantic market.

BAA, the owner of Stansted, badly needs to attract more airlines and more services to the airport, having invested pounds 400m in a new terminal and rail link.

Last year the airport lost nearly pounds 29m. Although the number of passengers handled rose by a third to 2.34 million, this is less than half its 5 million capacity. Stansted has the potential to take 8 million passengers with a further satellite.

A spokeswoman for BAA said: 'Obviously, we are very sad that American has pulled out, but you have got to put it in context. Stansted is the fastest-growing airport in Europe and American accounted for only 2 per cent of passenger traffic.'

Neverthless, the airport now lacks a prestige international airline to attract other carriers. There are 12 scheduled airlines at Stansted, operating to 41 destinations compared with six carriers flying to 11 destinations two years ago.

Hans Mirka, American's senior vice-president international, said that load factors on the Stansted-Chicago route were consistently low and that the flight did not attract enough premium business travellers.

He also attacked the failure of the British government to liberalise the rules preventing American from increasing the number of US destinations served from Stansted.

This might have tempted American to continue its Chicago service. But with its aircraft less than half full compared with load factors of more than 80 per cent on its flights from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester, the Stansted route could not be made viable. American still operates twice- daily to Chicago from Heathrow in competition with British Airways.